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The best on the box: Our top 10 Xbox One games of all time
A breakdown of the top titles to ever grace the Xbox One, which will grow as new classics are out in the gaming world.
The Xbox One has been out in the wild since November 2013, which means there's been just over four years of quality game releases to keep fans happy. It should come as no surprise that a bunch of the titles in my list of the Xbox One's best games of all time include a fair chunk of third-party games. As an Xbox One owner, this is bittersweet.
On one hand, it speaks to the quality of third-party developers and publishers. On the other, it's a stark reminder of the shortage of quality first-party exclusives for the Xbox One. If that doesn't really bother you, you're in luck because the last four years of the new-gen console generation has seen the release of some fantastic games.
Borderlands 3 is the full package. One of the rare productions out there that can effortlessly fuse sublime shooting with an addictive RPG grind and – the most elusive of ingredients – consistently on-point comedy. Story-wise, it's the same old setup – the planet of Pandora is in need of vault hunters, quasi-heroes who are single-minded in their need to loot, but are radically different in terms of their personal abilities.
This time around we have a Beastmaster (lethal creature weaponiser), Siren (elemental damage professional), Gunner (close combat tank) and The Operative (instrument of precision). Expect to invest double digit hours on branching out their skilltrees with cool new perks. Also, Borderlands is well known for its bajillions cache of procedurally generated guns, but now they all come with secondary modes, too. Essentially, you're staring the barrel of a first-person looter that gives and gives (and then gives some more if you have co-op pals to recruit).
Gears of War 5
Gears of War 5 (weirdly shortened to "Gears 5" now) brings back what I loved about the first game. Namely intense cover-to-cover shooting, OP weaponry, over-the-top gore, and a continuation of the sordid history of the messed up planet Sera. Don't worry if you're a newcomer who knows nothing of the triple-decker apocalypse that has gone on before this latest entry – Gears 5 is a decent entry point that's centred on a new breed of beefcake soldiers.
Long story short, this is the tale of Kait, a free spirited bad-ass forced to buddy up with a bunch of fascists in the name of species survival. Her journey (best experienced via online/local co-op as a group of three) will have you blasting and chainsawing your way into the dark heritage of the Locust swarms who live beneath the surface of the planet. Add in a heavy-hitting multiplayer lineup of Versus, Versus Arcade, Horde, and Escape and this is an essential package for any action junkie.
Sea of Thieves
What is Sea of Thieves? "Yo ho ho ho and an insane headshot done from the crow's nest of my galleon." That could be one answer. "Looting a series of islands filled with AI skeleton hordes and buried treasure chests, only to have it all swiped by human players when I'm metres from cashing it all in." This also could be another correct answer. In the end, Sea of Thieves is an incredibly vast, impressively rendered Carribean-esque sandbox that's chaotic enough to become whatever you want it to be.
Early adopters will be resistant to this recommendation, and for good reason. Sea of Thieves started out like a tech demo, threadbare in terms of quests and player purpose. I can, however, confirm that a series of huge updates has filled this enviable Xbox exclusive with more swash than many of us could ever hope to buckle. Gather up a posse of like-minded miscreants and go get yourself some co-op booty.
Forza Horizon 4
While the Aussie odyssey that was Forza Horizon 3 will always hold a special place in my heart, there's simply no denying that Playground Games shifted this franchise into fifth gear with this follow up. Now set across the leafy landscape of the United Kingdom, Forza Horizon 4's sandbox is a visual tour de force. You're looking at seasonally changing, condensed versions of Edinburgh, the Lake District (including Derwentwater), and the Cotswolds (including Broadway).
Not into sightseeing old Blighty at 300 km/hr? Sink your teeth into collecting a ludicrously large collection of over 450+ iconic automobiles. From there, use your preferred whip to compete in treasure hunts, speed trap challenges and a range of race variants dotted about this world. Better yet, take the game online and bomb around a server that supports 72 other racers at a time. Bottom line: Forza Horizon 4 is the undisputed king of the car-PG genre.
Grand Theft Auto V
Okay, so I kind of fibbed above because there are technically two remasters, but GTA V is something else, as far as the usual "slap on some higher-res textures" are concerned. Stacked next to the last-gen version, GTA V on Xbox One has a higher player count in GTA Online; new vehicles, guns and collectibles; and first-person mode, which is a surprisingly fantastic inclusion to the traditionally third-person series.
Returning players also had access to exclusive content, which helped soften the blow of repurchasing the "same" game 12 months after its release on Xbox 360. Outside of the new content, the new-gen version of GTA V is the best way to play Rockstar's latest sprawling open-world action game. On a simplistic level, the boosted visual fidelity makes the game more immersive and the story more engaging.
Whether you're after an entertaining storyline, a sprawling world littered with activities, or an epic multiplayer endgame, the appeal of Grand Theft Auto V is impossible to ignore.
Dishonored 2 is one of those fantastic sequels that escalates in all the right ways.
Everything about Dishonored 2 builds on the fantastic foundation of the game that preceded it. The story is bigger and better. Powers are expanded and more exciting. The fact that the dual protagonists play completely differently in a game that already empowers player choice means you're pretty much guaranteed to be tempted to play it through at least twice.
While rich, the world of Dishonored felt restricted, which is most likely due to the hardware constraints of last-gen consoles. In the new-gen era, though, this isn't an issue for developers Arkane Studios, which means Xbox One players are rewarded with a massive world to explore. Dishonored 2 is one of those hub-world games where you'll soon forget what you were doing moments ago, because you've been tempted off your intended path by dozens of competing distractions.
By far the biggest achievement of Dishonored 2, as is the trend with Arkane Studios games, is you can play your own way. Loud and proud. Silent and deadly. Or somewhere in between.
Dishonored 2 not only doesn't punish you for this; it actively encourages you to play your own way.
For the most part these days, zombie games are pretty stale. For every Left 4 Dead or Call of Duty WW2 Nazi Zombies mode, there are half a dozen examples of developers late to the brain-eating zeitgeist with boring takes on the undead apocalypse. Dying Light isn't one of those games.
In many respects, Techland's clunky-but-fun Dead Island games were a beta test for Dying Light, which is one of the best zombie games, to date. There's a massive world filled with activities (and of course, zombies) to explore, but what sets it apart from other zombie games is a strong emphasis on melee combat, and an even stronger focus on perfectly executed parkour.
At a time when Ubisoft was still struggling to perfect free running in its third-person game (a lot easier in third-person games, you'd think), and the best (but far from perfect) instance of first-person parkour was Mirror's Edge, Techland knocked it out of the park as just one part of its gameplay formula. Throw a grappling hook into the mix, which isn't restricted to fixed points, and the fantastic momentum is elevated further. There are scores of hours of fun to be found in Dying Light alone, and co-op is a whole new level of awesome.
Assassin's Creed: Origins
It took a long, long time for Ubisoft to get Assassin's Creed right. The free running was never quite right, hard-fail (and cookie-cutter) pursuit missions frustrated, and you basically mashed the counter button during fights to win against enemies who came at you one at a time.
Those issues have been around since the dawn of the series, and were even present in the best recent entry of the series, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. The trick with Black Flag, though, was it was two games in one: a clunky Assassin's Creed game and a fantastically immersive Seven Seas simulator. That's probably why Ubisoft is making Skull & Bones.
Black Flag love aside, Assassin's Creed Origin is so dangerously close to perfection it's enough to rekindle my love of the series (which has waned since Black Flag) and entice newcomers. Ubisoft Montréal still doesn't know how to create a meaningful story ending, but that's about the only Assassin's Creed sin that returns in Origins. Everything else is evolved and elevated over what came before.
You can easily lose hours in a single sitting exploring the beautifully realised Ancient Egypt setting, with one of the best protagonists the series has ever seen, and compelling side missions that complement a vengeance-filled main quest.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
For a time, this sequel to 2013's rebooted Tomb Raider was an Xbox One exclusive, and that was one hell of a coup for Microsoft (especially given Lara Croft's Sony roots). The 2013 reboot was a solid restarting point, but Rise of the Tomb Raider had Empire Strikes Back-like sequel execution. There are giant hub worlds to explore, actual tombs to raid (with some clever puzzles), and vertigo-inducing platforming. It also helps that there's top-notch action (or stealthing, if that's your thing) and an appropriately deep RPG system, with tough choices to make between upgrades.
Writer Rhianna Pratchett takes the newly reborn legend and, like any good sequel, puts her through some challenging scenarios. Where the first game lost its grounded feel after it veered too far into supernatural territory in the third act, Rise of the Tomb Raider keeps both of Lady Croft's boots in the mud throughout her adventure (where they work best). The result: a storyline that's complemented by fully-developed characters that deserve the same legendary status as Tomb Raider's leading lady.
Name a better space-based action-horror experience. I'll wait. Okay, I'll help you.
You could say Alien: Isolation, but you'd have to jump back to my intro to see why that didn't make the cut. Alternatively, you could say Dead Space, or its superior sequel Dead Space 2, but they both had obvious safe spaces which, once learnt, lifted all of the beautiful brown-pants tension.
Prey, on the other hand, doesn't buy into safe spaces. Any object in any room could be a mighty, morphing alien creature waiting to reveal its true form and dine on your flesh. You could argue that back-tracking is safe, but then you'd be ignoring those moments where you're confidently sprinting back through a "cleared" area, only to run into a curious patrolling guard. Or a towering Nightmare.
I'm not a huge fan of the deus ex machina-like ending, but those few minutes of narrative laziness aren't enough to spoil the truly powerful storytelling that came before it. This storytelling is complemented by believable characters, some of whom you'll hate, and others you'll want to save, even if you've decided to sentence the Talos I space station to a fiery fate. Prey isn't just the Xbox One game of 2017 [LINK my 'Best Xbox One games of 2017' here], it's one of the best action-RPGs of all time.
Ori and the Blind Forest
- RELEASE DATE:11/03/15
- DEVELOPER: Moon Studios
- PUBLISHER: Microsoft Studios
If you scroll through this list, you'll notice that there are a few games where you can shoot things. I'm a big fan of that.
So, to say that Ori and the Blind Forest can melt the stone-cold heart of this digital mass murderer should clue you on to the universal appeal of this beloved game. In a gaming world that's continually obsessed with big-budget AAA games, it's refreshing to come across a smaller-budget gem that has the kind of staying power that it'll be mentioned in "best games of all time" lists like these for years to come.
Ori and the Blind Forest can be knocked over in around eight hours, but you'd be missing out if you just main-pathed it. This is the kind of Metroidvania-style game that entices you to revisit previously-conquered areas with new abilities to sniff out previously-inaccessible areas. The world is so beautifully realised with its gorgeous art design and pitch-perfect soundtrack that you don't want to hit the end credits.
Ori and the Blind Forest will have you crying tears of sadness and joy in a haunting experience that will have you hooked from early on and engaged throughout.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Like Ori and the Blind Forest, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of those games that doesn't require you to love the genre to appreciate its special brand of magic. It's so epic, you can get your money's worth by beating the 50-hour campaign. But main-pathing it is ill-advised because there's so many truly worthy distractions in this beautifully realised fantasy world.
Throw in all the DLC with a completionist approach, and you're looking at 200+ hours of gameplay. The Witcher 3 has such an addictive gameplay loop it's tricky to play in short bursts; CD Projekt Red's expert alchemy means the "just five more minutes" line will become your mantra when playing this game.
From fighting bandits and besting challenging beasties, to losing yourself in the main story or plumbing the depths of poignant side quests (the Bloody Baron missions absolutely live up to the hype), this is the kind of single-player experience that flies in the face of the bigger publishers moving towards exclusive multiplayer offerings. It helps that some recent love for Xbox One X owners is a compelling reason to return to this enchanting game.
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